People Power

by J. Michael Shannon 

Linus once told Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” 

Sometimes, we all need a break from people.  That may especially be true after coming off an intensive week as many of us just have at the NACC.  But if we “can’t stand people,” we’re in trouble in church work.  Churches are full of people.  The world is, for that matter.  Nearly everything we do in life is dependent on us being able to manage relationships with each other.  No great thing is ever accomplished without cooperation.  No one person can perform all the tasks that need to get done – especially in the church.  When a congregation succeeds, it’s always the result of the labor of many.  

Some of the qualities that define a leader are the ability to motivate people, utilize their gifts, and marshal their resources.  Nehemiah illustrates this for us.  Even though the needs of Jerusalem – rebuilding the wall especially – were heavy on his heart, he knew there was no way he could do all that needed done by himself. 

Nehemiah first got permission from his king to go about the task God had laid upon his heart.  No doubt, Nehemiah’s faithful service gave the king a good reason to grant his request.  Nehemiah found favor in the eyes of Artaxerxes.  The king even seemed to take a genuine interest in what Nehemiah wanted to accomplish.  Not only did he give Nehemiah permission, but significant resources as well.  Our cultivation of good manners and courtesy will allow some people, even some outside the church, to help us with our task.  Nehemiah marshaled resources. 

Nehemiah also knew he had to motivate God’s people.  He did this by having a plan and challenging people.  People can be expected to react or respond to a plan, but they don’t craft one without the guidance of a leader.  It is the leader’s job to set the agenda and the goals; the people’s job is to amend and adopt them.  The vision Nehemiah cast for the people of Jerusalem was a great challenge – it seemed nearly impossible.  But the people responded and rose to the challenge, perhaps because of Nehemiah’s careful planning, and perhaps because of his enthusiasm. 

Notice his willingness to work side by side with the people.  Sometimes leaders do not receive respect because they insulate and separate themselves from the hard work and labor.  Nehemiah was, in today’s terms, a player/coach.  That is not a bad model for a minister, elder, or deacon. 

The satisfaction of seeing the walls built was not motivation enough, and Nehemiah knew this.  He helped motivate the people by allowing them to work near their own homes.  Each man was vitally interested in his own home being protected.  That personal buy-in kept the people going when the labor got discouraging. 

Finally, Nehemiah knew the ultimate reward for volunteer laborers – words of thanks and commendation.  Too seldom do we give words of commendation in the church.  Maybe this is because we have been erroneously taught that to work unselfishly means to work without thanks.  They are not the same thing.  Very few people in the church are paid anything for the labor they give.  The least they can expect are words like “well done,” “thank you,” and “we couldn’t do this without you” from their leaders.  Many people are convinced, but would never admit it out loud, that they are inept, have failed, and are not making any difference.  Our words of encouragement can keep them going and build them up for future service as well. 

We must cultivate our people power because we desperately need people.  The old saying is true: “It is never too heavy when we all lift together.” 

4 Ways

by Mark Taylor 

If church problems keep you awake at night, you’re in good company.  Even Paul wrote that “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28, NIV). 

Let’s be candid: sometimes we cause our own worst problems.  It’s true that selfishness or sin among church members brings untold grief and uncounted setbacks for the cause of Christ.  We can’t control that.  But we can control our actions, decisions, and relationships.   I remember four commitments we, elders and church leaders, can make to minimize stress and maximize effectiveness with the simple acronym DISC.
 
Display loyalty. 
We cannot marry someone to change them, and it’s unwise, even unethical, for a person to become an elder to “straighten out” the church.  If you have a problem with your minister, talk with him.  If you don’t agree with elders’ decisions, tell them.  But we can’t join the leadership unless we can display heartfelt loyalty for the minister and elders.  We’re on one team, fighting one enemy – and it’s not the music minister.
 
Insist on confidentiality.
When I served on a church staff, I sometimes learned unfortunate facts about people in the church.  My wife knew very little, or nothing at all.  I did not want her to be disheartened, especially when we on staff were giving the offender time to repent.  There is nothing to be gained by spreading bad news widely.  Elders do well to adopt a similar position.  Leaders will always know information that should be kept private.  If a staff member is being disciplined, if a minister is getting a raise, if a complainer’s demands are being denied, the church is not well served by everyone’s gossiping about it.  Start by not telling your spouse, and it will be easier to keep quiet with everyone else too.
 
Seek accountability.
We are human, of course, and make mistakes.  Accountability helps blunt the effects of those mistakes, and we should be held accountable when we mess up.  I’m thinking of times a leader violates a principle mentioned here, or if an elder takes it on himself to speak for the whole eldership without their permission, or when someone agrees in a meeting but sows doubt afterward in the parking lot –a so-called “meeting after the meeting.”  When an elder acts or speaks contrary to the will of the whole group, the rest of the elders must hold him accountable.  Good leaders do not avoid difficult conversations.  God has not called us to be nice.  Rogue behavior cannot be tolerated.  Undermining is not good for the eldership, not good for the individual elder, and it will be devastating to the church.
 
Commit to unity.
Some church members, perhaps without realizing it, will seek to divide the eldership.  They will complain to one elder about another.  They will criticize a minister or object to a change with the elder they think they can get to agree.  Be on guard against allowing them to recruit you for their cause.  Otherwise we become party to wrangling and restlessness that can fester till it divides the whole congregation.  Our pastor at Christ’s Church Mason, Trevor DeVage, has written a great piece addressing similar ideas.  I am not saying criticism isn’t allowed or everyone must blindly agree.  I’m saying we should establish two principles for discussions with unhappy church members: 

  1. Critics should go to the right person with their questions or concerns.  Jesus Himself directed us to our aggrieved brother or sister in Matthew 18:15.  Trevor’s practice: “When someone complains to me about a decision some other leader made, my first question is, ‘Did you talk to him (or her) about this?” 
  2. Nothing should take the place of the church’s primary mission: seeking and saving the lost.  That was Jesus’ self-described mission in Luke 19:10, and we are following Him alone.  “If we don’t fight for putting lost people first,” Trevor says, “our tendency to prefer personal pleasure will always get in the way.”  

When we put aside personal preference to support the Church’s mission, we will better handle the stress of serving.  We’ll be more effective.  And we will set an example and create an atmosphere that will help the whole congregation flourish.

Faithful Shepherd

by Dr John Caldwell 

We use many Scriptural terms interchangeably.  For instance, most of us think of the terms elder, shepherd, pastor, or overseer as describing the same function in the church.  In some circles the words “bishop” and “presbyter” are used for that same function.  Some modern paraphrases substitute the term “leaders” (CEV & The Message). 

And while all may be used of leadership functions within the body of Christ, these terms do have shades of different meanings.  Elder, overseer, bishop, and presbyter are used more for formal, decision-making leaders who, at times, almost function like a corporate board.  But the terms shepherd and pastor, even minister, more denote the care-givers and spiritual protectors of the flock.  This is the very function of which Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders in Miletus when he told them in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NASB).

Please don’t misunderstand.   My concern is not with titles but function.  We need both.  Decision-makers who are good, godly, and gifted guide the church by the prompting of the Spirit through uncertainty.  But we also need good, godly, gifted care-givers who know the Word to minister to the saints and protect the church.  After nearly 55 years in ministry (36 of them in one church), and having worked in one capacity or another with at least 300 additional congregations, it has been my observation that most elders function well either as decision makers or as pastor-shepherd-servants.  Only a few function well as both.  It is also my observation that far more desire the former function than the latter.  And while the motivation for seeking the former could sometimes be selfish, there is little to no selfish motivation in the latter. 

We all know the line, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,” from an Edgar Guest poem.  With that in mind I’d like to tell you about my friend Jim Mast. I’m writing this blog just a few days after preaching Jim’s funeral and have been thinking a lot about him.  Jim and his wife Wanda were one of the nine couples with us in the nucleus at the start of Kingsway Christian Church.  Jim wasn’t one of our original elders, but he accepted a call to that ministry early on; through the years he served faithfully in that role.  To be frank, Jim was usually very quiet during elders’ meetings.  I can’t remember one profound idea he shared or innovative new program he touted.  Jim was probably as lost as I was during some technical discussions of legal language or various financial minutiae. 

But if any question came up about a member of Jim’s flock, he knew. 

Our congregation of 2,000+ was sub-divided into flocks for shepherding by the elders.  Some elders were, sometimes, delinquent in their follow-up.  Not Jim.  He had visited in the home of every shut-in, seen every hospitalized person, followed up with those who had suffered loss, encouraged those who were growing unfaithful, and, from his personal and regular study of Scripture, gently re-directed those who were being led astray.  Jim’s love for his wife, family, and his people was exceeded only by his love for his Lord.  He was an exemplary shepherd. 

Today, I write in tribute to my friend Jim Mast – and all the faithful shepherds like him. 

Please, take a moment now to read John 10:1-16 and Psalm 23.  These passages show us the Good Shepherd whom Jim served,  the One who all faithful elder-shepherds continue to serve. 

“Asymptote” – Forward

by Jim Estep

“Asymptote” is a geometry term, but in a general, non-geometry sense, it can mean “always advancing, pursuing, but never achieving.”  Consider: if someone stands 10 feet from a doorway, I can tell them to close the distance by half, then stop.  If we repeat the exercise several times, they will be 10 feet, then 5 feet, then 2.5 feet, then 1.25 feet, then 7.5 inches away, and so on – but will never actually step through the door.  

Our pursuit of God’s mission is like an asymptote exercise!  We will always be in pursuit, endeavoring to move closer and closer to achieving its ultimate ends, never, this side of eternity, fully satisfied the with results; we’re committed to continuous improvement in our ministries.  With my role at e2 and 25 years as a practical ministries professor, God has given me the opportunity to visit, teach, and coach a large number of congregations throughout North America.  While visiting these congregations, those that were vibrant, growing, evangelizing and disciple-making had one factor that kept surfacing:  their relentless quest to fulfill God’s mission in the church.  They never settled for what they had already accomplished in the past, they wanted to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV). 
 
We will never “arrive,” but we also don’t stop pursuing.  Ministry will never be 100% perfect, 100% effective, 100% inclusive.  Take risks, make changes, be innovative, seek to improve on how far you’ve traveled so far.  Ask “what’s next?”  The only time we’ll actually reach our ultimate goal is when Christ returns and we experience for ourselves the fullness of His Kingdom.  Until then, we continue to move closer and closer to His prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mathew 6:10, ESV).  
 
Asymptote churches are led by asymptote leaders; elders who are on a habitual quest for improving ministry effectiveness, guarding the mission by never compromising it – and advancing it through any iteration.  This will make our congregations both biblically sound and practically relevant.  And our congregations will keep moving perpetually toward God’s calling.

Excellent Work

by Ken Idleman

I like the way the Good News Bible translates 1 Timothy 3:1:
 

If a man is eager to be a church leader [elder], he desires an excellent work.
 
A companion verse that also applies and has always impressed me as a lifelong church leader is Romans 12:11 (NIV):  
 
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 
The New Living Translation is a little more common and confrontational in the way it translates this Romans text: Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 
 
As a church leader, I am both motivated and a little convicted by these verses.
 
I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents.  They set the example with their post-Depression era “early to bed and early to rise” approach to daily life.  As a rule, my little brother and I were not allowed to stay up late, even on Friday nights.  We had chores to do the next day.  (That’s a word you don’t hear much anymore!)  We were not permitted to sleep in, even on Saturday mornings. When the basement flooded, which was basically every time it rained more than an inch, Dave and I were the “drop and mop” brigade.  When the green beans and strawberries were ripe, we were the two-man picking, snapping and stemming crew.  In the summers I could play Little League baseball … in the evenings … as long as I had worked during the day cutting corn out of the beans, and/or weeding the corn for a farmer in our church. 
 
But I have to say, as a result of the diligence and persistence of my parents, I got it.  Some might say I got it a little too well.  My problem has more often been achieving balance from the other direction.  I used to feel guilty for taking a day off.  I used to think I was a “shirker” when I would go on a vacation.  Through the years I have mellowed.  I now have no problem taking a Sabbath day at least once a week and a Sabbath week at least once a quarter every year. 
 
On the other hand, for me, serving the Lord has never felt arduous – not like “work.”  There is something that is regenerating in the process of working hard for God’s purposes.  And I am thankful that there is no mandatory retirement age for doing ministry.  I can do it voluntarily even after I have ceased to do it vocationally.  My 99-year old mother, Lois, is in a retirement facility, but daily she carries on a prayer ministry, a teaching ministry, a reading-to-the-visually-impaired ministry and an encouragement ministry that she discharges for the benefit of her neighbors.  I am still, to this day, challenged by her example of tireless, selfless service. 
 
And through the years, I have become a huge admirer of local church elders for their work ethic.  They typically volunteer many hours of their time for monthly elder team meetings, planning retreats, hospital visits, pastoral searches, crisis management and problem solving.  Of course this does not even count the scriptural priorities of a church leader – the prayer and teaching ministry of God’s Word.  We all get 168 hours in a week, which, in the light of such leadership demands, evaporate pretty quickly. For this reason, Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to Obey them [our spiritual leaders] so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.